Opinion: “Orange Bookers” are the boldest thinkers in the party. They need also to be the most progressive

David Laws speaking at Lib Dem Spring conference, Liverpool 2008“No return to soggy socialism” was the message that David Laws chose to end his keynote address to Centre Forum’s Orange Book Ten Years On conference yesterday.

It’s a message that is bound to antagonise people in the party who define themselves in opposition to the Orange Book and its endorsement of liberal economics. However much Laws and his co-editor Paul Marshall emphasised that their support for economic liberalism was predicated on the belief that it would promote progressive ends there will still be those who hear “free market” and think “Thatcher”. Having their position described as socialist is unlikely to endear David Laws any further to people who until relatively recently were in the mainstream of Liberal Democrat opinion.

For my own part, The Orange Book was what persuaded me to get off my armchair and become actively involved in the Liberal Democrats. I joined the party after reading John Stuart Mill and rapidly became inspired by the radical liberalism of Jo Grimond and Elliott Dodds, people who were dead long before I became interested in politics. The fact that senior Liberal Democrats were interested in our intellectual inheritance and willing to put their names to essays that were deeply controversial in the party at the time was enough to push me into political activism. I still think that the ideas that The Orange Book sought to reclaim have the power to inspire future generations of liberals to put their heads above the parapet and back the party.

Nevertheless, the fact that the economic side of liberalism inspires such hostility from those on the left, including many members of the Liberal Democrats, is something that shouldn’t be skirted over. Ironically, it was Tim Montgomerie, a Conservative, who came closest to putting his finger on the problem when he called for measures to reduce demand for the state. Simply cutting back state services without ensuring that people have the means to stand on their own two feet is not necessarily liberal. To be free you need to have choices available and the means to choose them.

In Grimond’s day, the Liberal Party had policies that would have seen workers take a stake and a say in the running of their company. My own contribution to the debate at the conference was to suggest that Housing Benefit could be used to pay back state issued mortgages and allow residents of affordable housing to build a stake in their homes. David Laws’ opening chapter to The Orange Book quotes Jo Grimond approvingly as saying that “there is no purpose in keeping a Liberal Party alive unless it promotes liberalism.” If it’s Grimond’s liberalism that Orange Bookers are seeking to reclaim then policies that seek to redistribute the means to allow people to stand on their own feet independently of the state should be part of the mix. Perhaps then liberal economics will be seen by more people as a key part of the solution to society’s ills.

Among the notable contributions to the conference were Paul Marshall’s series of controversial proposals for improving productivity in the public sector(these included removing the cap on public sector pay and banning strikes in health and education), Maajid Nawaz’s expert analysis of the crisis in Iraq and Syria and Anatole Kaletsky’s description of the pension triple lock as the single most irresponsible Coalition policy.

That the Orange Bookers are the boldest thinkers in the party is, in my opinion at least, beyond dispute. They need to make sure that they’re also the most progressive.

* Andrew Chamberlain is a London-based freelance journalist, Liberal Democrat member and activist. He was a councillor in North Ayrshire between 2007 and 2012.

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55 Comments

  • “That the Orange Bookers are the boldest thinkers in the party is, in my opinion at least, beyond dispute. ”

    I don’t understand how it is bold about to spout the same message that’s been forced down our throats for more than 30 years.

    Liberal economics is not the same thing as economic liberalism. The word ‘liberal’ means two different things in those two contexts. In the first, liberal economics, refers to economics of people who describe themselves as liberal and in the second, it implies a laissez-faire approach to economics. I can think of no other reason for you to conflate these to meanings than to antagonise those who think that liberalism is better delivered by state intervention in the market to promote equality of opportunity.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '14 - 12:16pm

    Andrew Chamberlain

    That the Orange Bookers are the boldest thinkers in the party is, in my opinion at least, beyond dispute.

    I dispute it. The sort of thing they are saying has now become commonplace political orthodoxy. It may have been refreshing and new when it was part of Thatcherism, it was already rather stale when the Orange Book took it on and gave it a bit of a liberal spin.

    ALL governments since 1979 have followed the idea in the Orange Book that putting things out to market competition is the best way to improve them and will enhance people’s freedoms. Yet it hasn’t worked out like that. The main thing we have seen since those days is a big growth in inequality which means those at the lower end of the wealth and income scale feel a lot less free than the equivalent did back in the 1970s.

    So I think the big question in politics now is not “How can we squeeze out of existence that remaining tiny bit of opposition to free market dominance?” but “Why is it that so many don’t feel the move towards a more market oriented economy has given the freedom it promises?”.

  • The Orange Book is only a very slight shade of grey away from the neoliberalism that’s so orthodox these days. At least on the economic sphere, which sadly seems to be where much of their attention lies. Having policy barely distinguishable from the rest is not bold in my book.

    Social liberalism is bolder. Bolder still would be thinking ahead about the long term challenges that things such as an ageing population will one day present, which in the long run present severe difficulties to either approach and most intermediates between them. Seeing as both neoliberal and social liberal approaches implicitly require a good economy to function well, which without population growth I think is not a given.

  • And how do we, in Steve’s terms, inject a bit of liberal economic thinking into political thought. The issue here is not only about fairer distribution of the fruits of labour etc, but also how we redefine our economic measures, growth etc, to fit in with environmental imperatives. We have to cut our coat according to our natural resource cloth. Re-use, repair, phasing out of built-in obsolescence etc, sustainable jobs should be the name of the game. We needed that revolution in the mid to late 70s. Instead we got Thatcherism. Ridding world society of it should be our goal, not how to perpetuate it!

    I have seen little in the way of addressing these issues from the “bold” Orange Bookers.

  • Geoffrey Payne 25th Jun '14 - 1:01pm

    I would say that a bold program for a Liberal government would include the introduction of LVT, no replacement for Trident, replacing top down management of companies with mutuals and worker cooperatives, introduction of a Tobin tax, introduction of a basic income, nationalisation of the railways, all on top of constitutional reforms most of which we can agree and which includes a far greater role for local government where I am not sure we do agree.
    Now I tend to find it is the Orange Book Liberals who are the more conservative force here. They are the ones who say it is too expensive or it won’t work. They will often have a point to be fair, not all bold ideas are necessarily going to work in practice.
    What we are currently getting is the marketisation of public services which may be bold for the Liberal Democrats but has not given me anything to feel proud about.

  • Stephen Campbell 25th Jun '14 - 1:02pm

    Oh please. Not more of this “the market is the answer to everything” nonsense we’ve had since 1979. I’ve seen Matthew’s eloquent posts about this and agree with his analysis. The people these days shouting for MORE privatisation and MORE market/profit-based government services are, as Matthew said before, akin to those Trots who used to argue MORE socialism was the answer to socialism not working properly.

    And I also agree with what he’s posted in the past about freedom and the markets. I feel a lot LESS free now than I did in the 1970s. Neoliberalism has only been good for the rich and those who want to step on others to achieve success. In the 1970s, I had a decent and well-paying job backed by a union that stood up for me. I had more disposable income. There was more than one left-wing party to vote for, versus only the one these days (Green). There was a larger sense of community and people looked out for one another more than they do now. We were a less unequal nation and not everything was geared toward the acquisition of riches at all costs. Not everything was a “marketing opportunity”. Nowadays everything is geared towards profit at all cost, “greed is good” and the political debate has moved so far to the right that calling for the trains to be renationalised, for example, which used to be a centrist position now leads some Liberal Democrats to call me a communist. It seems that these days, money = freedom. Now that the market is the “answer to everything”, if you don’t have the money to take part in this market, your freedom is greatly diminished. And the ad-men remind you of this fact constantly by making one feel inadequate.

    Look, putting everything out to market hasn’t worked. Making public services into profit-making machines hasn’t worked. People feel less free than they used to. People have less power than ever – witness how all the main political parties never offer genuine, radical alternatives. Corporations and big business are now more powerful than the nation state and governments of all colours do exactly what these corporations want. I’m really, really sick of it. I feel powerless and until I joined the Greens, I truly felt as if I had no voice.

    Neoliberalism has only enriched the already well-off and those with few moral scruples. We do not need more of this, more privatisations and profit-making in areas where profit should not come into play. The free market is great for mobile phones and shiny trinkets. It is not great when it comes to the NHS, public transport, the prison service, education, etc.

  • Paul Pettinger 25th Jun '14 - 1:25pm

    If bold means sticking to your guns, misrepresenting opponents, ignoring evidence and the electorate, then Orange Bookers are – by far – the boldest.

  • It may have been refreshing and new when it was part of Thatcherism

    It may have been refreshing and new in the reign of William IV.

  • Stephen Howse 25th Jun '14 - 2:13pm

    “If bold means sticking to your guns, misrepresenting opponents, ignoring evidence and the electorate, then Orange Bookers are – by far – the boldest.”

    People on both ‘sides’ of this debate can be as bad as each other for all of this.

  • Is this section on the 1945 Liberal Party manifesto any less relevant today than it was then?

    11. Industry

    British Industry will face new and complex problems after the war. If we are to succeed we must sell the goods which the world wants at the price which the world will pay. We can do this only by achieving justice for the three partners in industry-the Manager, the Worker and the Investor.

    Of first importance are the status and remuneration of the worker. He has for too long been regarded as a “hand”. He must become a partner and acquire economic citizenship, through Works Councils set up by law, and through Joint Industrial Councils in every Trade Board Industry. Profit-sharing should be encouraged, and information on the conduct and finance of business should be readily available to assure workers that wages fixed and profit-sharing schemes in operation are fair and just.

    Liberals believe that the controversy for and against nationalisation is out of date. They approach industrial problems without economic prejudice, and since they represent no vested interest of employers or employed, they alone can plan in the interests of the whole community. They believe in private enterprise and the value of individual effort, experiment, and willingness to take risks. Hence their support of the small trader and their desire to diffuse ownership as widely as possible. Hence also their opposition to cartels and price- fixing rings which, often abusing the name of private enterprise, create conditions of monopoly and hold the community to ransom.

    But where public ownership is more economic, Liberals will demand it without hesitation. Where there is no further expansion or useful competition in an industry or where an industry or group of industries has become a private monopoly, Liberals say it should be come a public utility. Liberals believe in the need for both private enterprise and large-scale organisation under government control, and their tests for deciding which form is necessary are the service of the public, the efficiency of production and the well-being of those concerned in the industry in question.

    12. Transport and Power

    Railways, with the large part of road transport controlled by them, are clearly in effect a monopoly, and should be treated as a Public Utility on a national plan. Electric power should also be reorganised as a public utility.

  • Stephen Howse 25th Jun '14 - 2:49pm

    “Liberals believe that the controversy for and against nationalisation is out of date. They approach industrial problems without economic prejudice, and since they represent no vested interest of employers or employed, they alone can plan in the interests of the whole community. They believe in private enterprise and the value of individual effort, experiment, and willingness to take risks. Hence their support of the small trader and their desire to diffuse ownership as widely as possible. Hence also their opposition to cartels and price- fixing rings which, often abusing the name of private enterprise, create conditions of monopoly and hold the community to ransom.”

    We should just reprint that entire section in the 2015 manifesto.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '14 - 2:51pm

    George Potter

    Trying to present the party as some sort of 21st century version of the Liberal party of the 19th century is both historically illiterate and intellectually dishonest.

    Trying to present the idea that the Liberal Party of the 19th century thought the answer to everything was to privatise it and put it in the hands of businessmen is both historically illiterate and intellectually dishonest.

  • But some early 19th-century Whigs and Liberals did think that the primary cause of poverty was that the poor were not treated punitively enough.

  • Stephen Howse 25th Jun '14 - 3:25pm

    “The Archetype Orange Book policy is free schools, which is the same policy as the Conservatives and much the same as every Conservative or Labour Government since Thatcher and grant mainatined schools.”

    But there wasn’t actually a chapter on education in the Orange Book – it is the book’s big black hole.

    There’s plenty in there to deconstruct and debate without just making things up to fit the stereotype.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 3:34pm

    Steve – Personally, I think you’re conflating economic liberalism with Thatcherism. The problem I have with Thatcher’s record is that she expanded freedom for most people above a certain income threshold, but failed to do the same for the very poorest. Instead she starved services on which they were dependent of cash and failed to bring viable alternatives into existence.

    The traditional liberal response is to push for as wide a diffusion of ownership as possible, so that the poorest have the necessary resources to stand on their own two feet apart from the state. That should be part of any liberal’s approach to economics, in my opinion.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “Trying to present the idea that the Liberal Party of the 19th century thought the answer to everything was to privatise it and put it in the hands of businessmen is both historically illiterate and intellectually dishonest.”

    Hmmm. The laissez-faire whigs of the mid-19th century thought that sending relief to the victims of the Irish potato famine would just encourage them to become dependent on the British government. According to the assistant secretary to HM treasury, Charles Trevelyan, aiding the Irish brought “the risk of paralysing all private enterprise.”.

  • The idea of cooperative ownership of business and infrastructure is the big one. For too long, it has languished on the left behind the idea of centralising things behind gigantic state owned behemoths. On the right, it stands against the narrow interests of the capital holder and so is rejected out of hand. The old manifesto is right that the nationalise/privatise debate misses the point.

    It’s that sort of idea that we need to rediscover for the next decade if we want to recover, rebuild and press on. It is a little disappointing that we can still find such ideas in a 1945 manifesto, though. A sign of how stale the political discourse has become, I think.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 3:47pm

    Matthew Huntbach – I don’t agree that putting state services out to competition has in all cases failed to enhance freedom. British Telecom is a glaring example of a service where privatisation has led to greater choice and efficiency.

    Your question, “Why is it that so many don’t feel the move towards a more market oriented economy has given the freedom it promises?” is absolutely the correct one to be asking. In my view it is a lack of access to markets for the poorest that is the key failing thus far in our moves towards a free economy. This should be at the front of all of our minds when forming policy. The solution, in my view, isn’t to cut choice by retreating towards statism, but to increase the means to choose of the poorest by redistributing wealth.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 3:52pm

    DM – I think we are going to end up working for significantly longer. More immigration should be a part of the solution too, particularly in areas like Scotland where demographic issues are most acute.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 3:58pm

    Geoffrey Payne – I agree with you on LVT, Trident, mutuals and devolving more power to local govt. Not so keen on the Tobin tax or nationalising the railways. A national income is worth giving serious thought.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 4:06pm

    Gareth Epps – I think you’re right about the triple lock. If you look at the IFS analysis, we’ve ended up protecting the income of pensioners at the expense of every other section of society.

    Personally, I think every employee should have a basic right to own shares in the company that they work for (with the odd exemption on grounds of practicality)

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 4:16pm

    Joe Bourke – “But where public ownership is more economic, Liberals will demand it without hesitation. Where there is no further expansion or useful competition in an industry or where an industry or group of industries has become a private monopoly, Liberals say it should be come a public utility. Liberals believe in the need for both private enterprise and large-scale organisation under government control, and their tests for deciding which form is necessary are the service of the public, the efficiency of production and the well-being of those concerned in the industry in question.”

    This is in line with the economic orthodoxy of the time, but isn’t an approach I’d like to see exhumed. Monopolies are in almost all cases better regulated and left in the private sector than taken into public ownership. Wherever possible they should be broken up.

    I like the Works Councils/profit sharing section.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 25th Jun '14 - 4:38pm

    Alex Wilcock – Glad you enjoyed the article!

    I’d tend to agree that large chunks of the Orange Book are entirely conventional. It was the David Laws chapters that seemed to cause controversy at the time, particularly the one on healthcare (which definitely is radical).

    I think suggesting that the Orange Book is pro-big business isn’t quite accurate. The principles laid out in the opening chapter I think would require you to adopt a bottom up approach. It just needs to be explicitly drawn out and backed up with hard policy.

  • geoffrey payne 25th Jun '14 - 4:50pm

    It is the paradox of what has become to be known as Orange Book Liberalism, which is that it has always lacked a book. Orange Book Liberals are associated with policies like Free Schools and Academies because David Laws, Sarah Teather and Nick Clegg supported them, whilst the rest of the party voted by a margin of 10 – 1 against them.
    it was possible Jeremy Browne’s book might have been the definitive Orange Book but most Orange Bookers I know think he went too far.

  • Andrew,

    your reference to economic orthodoxy is germane to this debate. The Samuelson neoliberal orthodoxy or Washington consensus (being a syntheses of classic economic liberalism and keynesianism) of the past three decades fell apart in the wake of the financial crisis.

    Former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan, addressing a congressional committee said: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.” As for the presupposition of all mainstream economics that automatic corrective forces ensure financial market equilibrium, Greenspan said: “The whole intellectual edifice collapsed in the summer of last year.”

    “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Greenspan confessed. “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.” The committee chairman sought clarification of the matter: “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” “Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

    My feeling is that the Liberals of 1945 (Keynes and Beveridge among them) having been through the Great depression and war years took a practical and pragmatic approach in keeping an open-mind to public ownership of natural monopolies.

    As to an approach that should or should not be exhumed, it is interesting that this article from the Liberal History Group http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/uploads/9_Egan_Baines_Liberals_and_1945_review.pdf notes: that in 1945 the Liberal Party was not perceived as a serious contender in the contest to form a new government.

    “Joyce correctly identifies the party’s lack of a coherent image as the fundamental obstacle to success. The party was split ideologically between those who argued that the state could be used to secure reform and those who wished to reduce its role. The party leadership was wary of taking a lead in defining where the party should stand; it was primarily
    engaged in work within the government before 1945, and was heedful of the damaging splits over free trade in the 1930s. As a consequence, the party tended to describe itself in terms of the two other parties, as a possible moderating influence on the extremes of socialism and Conservatism. Moderation, allied with an emotional appeal to the party’s social reforming past, constituted the Liberal image. While there may have been little hostility expressed towards this image it did not imply that electors had any intention of voting Liberal.”

  • Julian Critchley 25th Jun '14 - 5:15pm

    “Among the notable contributions to the conference were Paul Marshall’s series of controversial proposals …… (these included ….. banning strikes in health and education),”

    Seriously ? This is now what passes for thought in my old party ?

    Isn’t it funny how free marketeers believe the government shouldn’t (or indeed can’t) intervene in any way in the workings of the market where employers and directors stuff their pockets with obscene sums, but that the Government should and must use statutory powers to prevent ordinary workers from trying to obtain any improvement in their pay and conditions.

    I cannot believe I spent twenty years of my life in a party which would even entertain this sort of regressive Victorian vileness.

  • @Julian Critchley

    If everyone else leaves, you end up with a party dominated by its rightmost fringe.

    Also, in a democratic party, members are allowed to say daft things. We all have a responsibility to debate the issues and come up with non-daft solutions, but that’s another argument for staying in.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th Jun '14 - 6:30pm

    @Geoffrey Payne wrote:

    “I would say that a bold program for a Liberal government would include the introduction of LVT, no replacement for Trident, replacing top down management of companies with mutuals and worker cooperatives, introduction of a Tobin tax, introduction of a basic income, nationalisation of the railways, all on top of constitutional reforms most of which we can agree and which includes a far greater role for local government where I am not sure we do agree.”

    I would agree with all of this minus LVT and a Tobin tax (as they won’t work), and would add mutualising the water companies and have a government owned new build nuclear programme. I would like a fully federal Britain with an English Parliament having Devo-Max powers as Edinburgh will have after a No vote, with an elected federal Senate.

    And yet I’m assumed to be an arch ‘Orange Booker’, highlighting for me that we tend to magnify the differences in emphasis in the party rather than on the things that unite us. Perhaps we should reflect a little on that….

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '14 - 7:47pm

    Andrew Chamberlain

    Matthew Huntbach – I don’t agree that putting state services out to competition has in all cases failed to enhance freedom. British Telecom is a glaring example of a service where privatisation has led to greater choice and efficiency.

    Well, it’s the one example that always gets brought up in this context. Maybe, though also a lot has changed because of developments in technology, so putting it all down to privatisation and nothing down to these other issues is a bit dubious.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '14 - 7:50pm

    Steve

    Hmmm. The laissez-faire whigs of the mid-19th century thought that sending relief to the victims of the Irish potato famine would just encourage them to become dependent on the British government. .

    Yes, but they weren’t the only thing going across the whole of the 19th century in the Liberal Party.

  • Stephen Howse 25th Jun '14 - 7:55pm

    “we tend to magnify the differences in emphasis in the party rather than on the things that unite us.”

    Spot on. “The narcissism of small differences” reigns supreme – it’s why despite agreeing with all of that (bar a Tobin tax) and also your proposal for new-build nuclear and federalisation, and believing we need serious land reform (to make good on DLG’s vision) and reform of inheritance laws (inherited wealth being the number one enemy of social mobility) I’ve been called “right-wing”, an “Orange Booker”, “basically a Tory” and “a neoliberal” both by people outside the party and people within it.

  • Like Toby, I have doubts about LVT. I am not aware of its goals and evidence that the goals would be achieved. For a party in which some place emphasis on evidence, surely the evidence for LVT should be produced before any policy is adopted.

    In terms of boldness, I would like to see the use of marine energy, new rules so that the results of all clinical trials are made available, increased pressure on Israel and citizenship for Snowden.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '14 - 9:27pm

    Andrew Chamberlain

    In my view it is a lack of access to markets for the poorest that is the key failing thus far in our moves towards a free economy. This should be at the front of all of our minds when forming policy. The solution, in my view, isn’t to cut choice by retreating towards statism, but to increase the means to choose of the poorest by redistributing wealth.

    Yes, but how? And wouldn’t it be regarded as a nasty bit of state intervention that would stifle the entrepreneurial spirit etc etc for the state to step in and take away wealth from those who have it and give it to those who do not?

    Since we’ve had plenty of free market politics already, but none of this balancing redistribution of wealth, surely it’s that bit we should be talking about, not going on and on about how we need to expunge every last little bit of democratic influence through the state on the provision of goods and services.

    My problem is that, yes, people like you, if pushed, will make this sort of hand-waving gesture about wealth redistribution and claim it means you aren’t Tories. But it doesn’t seem to be the thing that enthuses you. The worry is that, as with Clegg on income tax, you’ll end up compromising by agreeing to the bit the Tories agree with and forgetting the bit they don’t.

  • I have just reviewed an old thread on LVT.

    I found the following
    The landlord will always charge around as much as the market will bear, so increasing
    a tax on the land will not cause the landlord to increase prices because the market wouldn’t bear it.

    If you are changing the system, then you are changing the amount of money moving around and this may affect the market. In other words, the prices may go up because the renters are able to pay more.

    On the other hand, if renters are not better off, then the claimed benefit of “reducing taxes on work” does not seem so valuable as a “progressive” achievement

  • Voter,

    you might find the Alter site useful as a guide to LVT advocate’s thinking on the issues you raise http://libdemsalter.org.uk/en/

  • Toby Fenwick
    ” ..,.a government owned new build nuclear programme…”

    But Toby, we already have a government owned new build nuclear programme. It is the Chinese government.

  • Alex Wilcock writes well in his comment here and also in the much fuller piece in his blog of yesterday.

    I especially liked his bit at the end where he quotes Mark Pack from another publication —
    “All POWER (be it government, business or other people) can both PROTECT and THREATEN LIBERTY.

    I hope I am not one of those who has used the OB – “..as a club to hit people with ” . If I had the time I would try and adapt the Groucho Marx quote about clubs.

    But I agree with Alex that the book itself is tedious and dull rather than brilliant and bold.

    I believe it is true that not very many copies of The Orange Book have been sold..

    I seem to remember David Lawes speaking at a Tobacco Industry event saying that most copies had been purchased by a Liberal Lord who was storing them in his garage to hide the, from the innocent eyes of Liberal Democrats.

    But dull and tedious books, which are a disjointed collation of essays, seldom become best sellers.

  • The problem with the free market/competition based idea to provide government services is that it drives costs up rather than down. It introduces pointless layers of bureaucracy, more layers of middle management and ever more layers of government to ensure the the franchised services are doing the job they are charging the taxpayer for. The governments of the UK and the US expanded under Thatcher and Reagan. It simply doesnt do what it claims to do. Canada cut public spending by taking back franchised services into public control.

  • @Joe
    I checked an advocacy web site and found the following
    http://www.landvaluetax.org/frequently-asked-questions/why-lvt-cannot-be-passed-on.html

    It seems to me that the page answers the question “will a landlord set a competitive price”.

    This was not the question asked, which was whether the tax would be passed on.

  • Voter,

    I think what is being referred to is Ricardo’s Law of Rents. See article for discussion http://www.landvaluetax.org/theory/ricardos-law-simply-explained.html.
    This basically says that a Landlord can only charge what a renter is willing to pay for any particular location (i.e. the market rent) regardless of what the Landlords individual costs are – whether they be Land Value Tax or other costs.

  • @Joe
    My point is that the market rent may increase as a result of changing the national tax arrangements.

    So, the web site is just assuming that the market will be flat. There is a difference between an assuming something and demonstrating it.

  • Voter,

    I think the point being made is that how tax is collected from Landlords will not affect the market rent i.e. is determined by supply and demand..

    Some Landlords will be paying 20% income tax, some 40% and some 45%. Corporate landlords will be paying corporation tax on their rental income as well as income tax on their dividends. Some Landlords will have a mortgage others will own the property rent free.

    Whatever their individual circumstances they can only charge a rent that people are willing to pay for the location they are renting. Those Landlords with lower costs will still charge the highest rent they can get. Those with higher costs cannot charge more than what the market will bear just because they have a higher mortgage or are a higher rate taxpayer.

  • Chris Manners 27th Jun '14 - 4:32pm

    As a Labour supporter, I offer fraternal advice. Don’t let this lot run amok any more than they already have. We let people like them do it us, but we’ve at least slowed them down now.

    Good luck to those who want their party back.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 28th Jun '14 - 11:08am

    Matthew Huntbach – Redistributing wealth isn’t something that I support as a fig leaf to cover my burning passion for privatisation and deregulation. I support both wealth redistribution and privatisation equally and think that in many cases they can be made to fit hand in glove.

    Take the privatisation of the National Freight Corporation in the 1980s – 80% of shares ended up in the hands of employees. They then went on, improved their business and ended up profiting from their success. That’s a more progressive approach to privatisation than simply selling off state assets to the highest bidder.

    With respect to my own proposal for using Housing Benefit to pay back state provided mortgages on affordable housing, council housing fed into the scheme would be privatised. If Housing Benefit in all but exceptional circumstances could only be used to pay back a mortgage then there would be an incentive for private landlords to transfer houses to their tenants. In effect there would be a redistribution of wealth from the state and the rich to the poor.

    We do need to be focussing more on redistributing wealth. Turning our back on privatisation will limit the ways in which we are able to do that.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 28th Jun '14 - 11:28am

    Joe Bourke – I think the Liberal History excerpt offers a clear warning for us at the moment. The Stronger Economy, Fairer Society message is very much about moderation. Opportunity for all is a slight improvement, but we really need to be talking about liberalism more. A clear liberal message probably won’t go down as well in focus groups, but at least it communicates that we have a purpose as a party. The European election message was closer to the right approach, but ended up sounding a bit smug and technocratic rather than a rallying call to advance human freedom by breaking down the barriers between nations.

    I’m not convinced that the lessons that we should draw from the financial crisis include that we should bring more natural monopolies into the public sector, but even if they remain private they still require heavy regulation by the state.

  • Andrew,

    I concur with your comment that our message needs to be distinctive, radical and have a clear purpose as a party based on advancing human freedom.

    My comment on economic orthodoxy was more around the assumption that the consensus of recent decades can be automatically regarded as an advancement on the post-war economic consensus. In many areas we have gone backwards – in development of vocational skills, in infrastructure and housing development, in the ability to maintain full employment , in job security and inequality, in defence capability, in innovation and engineering skills, in energy security, social cohesion and in prudent regulation of financial markets and credit creation.

    As regards natural monopolies – where we find that state subsidies are required to maintain privatised industries – (whether that be in rail transport, vertically integrated energy companies or nuclear power generation) then it is arguable that such monopolies are as well off being maintained under direct state control.

    State regulation of private commerce should seek to incentive innovation and risk-taking while discouraging recklessness – balancing free enterprise with prudence.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Jun '14 - 4:08pm

    Isn’t all this stuff about the Orange Book (both ways) somewhat over-hyped?

    It is not particularly intellectual and not all very well-written and I doubt whether more than a few thousand people in the UK have ever heard of it.

  • @ Andrew Chamberlain
    I don’t think Social Liberals object to workers having shares in the company they work in, I think they support this. Whether they would support the idea that all companies who employ more than 100 people should issue shares to their employees I don’t know. I think the idea has merit.

    “If Housing Benefit in all but exceptional circumstances could only be used to pay back a mortgage then there would be an incentive for private landlords to transfer houses to their tenants.” Housing Benefit is not given to people with mortgages. If I were renting out out a property then your scheme would ensure that none of my tenants would be in a job where they needed housing benefit to pay the rent. Your suggestion would ensure that the amount of social housing will decrease even further. It hasn’t recovered from the Thatcher mass council house sell-off and this is why rents are so high.

    We would improve the lives of more people if we build thousands and thousands of houses for rent so that everyone who wanted a home to rent would be able to get one. This would also bring down rents. Having a home to live in that meets your requirement increases your freedom and liberty. Who owns it doesn’t really matter.

    “Opportunity for all is a slight improvement, but we really need to be talking about liberalism more. A clear liberal message”
    A clear liberal message – the role of government is to empower people and ensure that all who have power are properly controlled to enhance people’s freedom, liberty and well-being.
    Opportunity for all is not an add-on it is vital and it is vital it is life-long. If people don’t have the opportunities when they were young we should provide them now. If they didn’t take the opportunity when they were young but wish to now, then they should be able to do so. This means there is a huge enabling role for the state.

    @ Joe Bourke
    If the state is giving subsidies to private companies to run a service then the market has failed and direct state control may well be the most economic and efficient way to provide that service. An example could be bus companies. We believe we should encourage people to use the bus, but people choose not to when it is run to make a profit. We believe it is a vital service for rural areas and at night time but without subsidies most of these buses wouldn’t be run. For local authorities to take control of the buses and to reduce ticket prices might be the best way to run this service.

  • Jonathan Pile 28th Jun '14 - 7:40pm

    The orange book coup has had its day, party activists and voters are looking at the practical application of orange book theories and the intended and unintended consequences and rejecting the degradation of human rights in the UK. Nick Clegg’s unparalleled attack on Oxfam’s protesting UK poverty is a new low point. A New Yellow Book to counter the incidious post-Thatcherite creep is coming.
    All ideas welcome to : [email protected]
    http://www.libdemfightback.yolasite.com

  • SIMON BANKS 11th Jul '14 - 8:28pm

    There is some truth in the opening statement: those opposed to the Laws-Browne take on Liberalism are busy trying to influence policies (or win elections) and a major restatement of Social Liberalism would be timely.

    However, I find it frustrating that “Orange Bookers” (an awkward term as some people who are hardly down-the-line economic liberals wrote in the Orange Book) persistently misrepresent the grounds of opposition to their line.

    It is not “soggy socialism”, for example, to argue that powerful corporations often restrict individual liberty more than a democratic state, especially in third world countries, and that restriction of liberty by a democratic state is at least amenable to being changed through the ballot box. It is not “soggy socialism” to argue, as Jo Grimond did, that an approach which analyses everything in terms of individual choices in the market versus state top-down direction ignores the fact that humans are social animals, that self-realisation comes through co-operation as much as lonely effort and a key aspect of a healthy society is people achieving things in concert through groups freely joined. It is hardly “soggy socialism” to reassert a longstanding Liberal commitment to devolution rather than a Thatcher-like determination to crush local councils and other intermediary bodies to leave the individual alone in theoretically free interaction with the market and a slimmed-down nation state. Nor, as Andrew suggests, is it illiberal to be concerned about growing inequalities of outcome instead of concentrating purely on the elusive concept of equality of opportunity, or (I add) to put the long-term health of the planet ahead of the freedoms of the supermarket.

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